Stress goes down as clus­ter fence goes up

Heart­break­ing im­pact of pests, dogs

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Find A -

GRA­ZIER John McMil­lan has felt the dev­as­tat­ing blow of wild dogs, but now he can breathe a sigh of re­lief thanks to the in­stal­la­tion of clus­ter fenc­ing.

Mr McMil­lan is just 7km away from hav­ing his whole

14,568ha Il­fra­combe prop­erty closed off from pests.

He was pre­vi­ously los­ing thou­sands of sheep from his flock.

“I wasn’t sleep­ing at night be­cause I was too wor­ried about how many sheep I was go­ing to lose,” he said.

“At night-time I’d be around the house or out in the pad­docks driv­ing with my ri­fle to try and shoot them.

“There was a lot of stress in­volved and my wife Marie said I wasn’t a happy per­son.”

Mr McMil­lan even took his hunt sky high.

“There was this one par­tic­u­lar fe­male that we had to find by he­li­copter,” he said.

“She was do­ing a lot of the dam­age at the time so we had to ae­rial shoot her and her pup.”

He de­scribed the dam­age to his flock as heart­break­ing.

“It was hard to see the sheep run­ning down the road with their in­testines drag­ging be­hind them,” he said.

“But it was harder to find the ones who had been bit­ten in the flank with mag­gots in their wounds.

“The poor things would die slowly and painfully from blow fly and you wouldn’t know un­til you saw the black se­cre­tion in their wool.”

In 2015, the fam­ily had to com­pletely de-stock be­cause they couldn’t af­ford to keep los­ing sheep dur­ing the drought.

“I wasn’t pre­pared to spend

$120 a head for an­i­mals that might get killed in two weeks,” Mr McMil­lan said.

“We had to ei­ther sell or put up the fence.

“The prop­erty wasn’t saleable be­cause it was like look­ing out at the bi­tu­men in front of you – it was just bare coun­try.

“See­ing as we didn’t have the stock to feed or wa­ter, we had the time to build the fence and we were lucky enough to be suc­cess­ful in the first round of ex­clu­sion fenc­ing grants.”

Mr McMil­lan has now been able to re-stock, ac­quir­ing a new mob thanks to the 50km bar­rier and the help of a gov­ern­ment grant.

“We started off with about 1500 young wethers to get a bit of a cash flow com­ing in,” he said.

“We’ve built up back to hav­ing meri­nos and we’ve marked about 4800 lambs.”

Mr McMil­lan said the fence had lifted a huge weight off of his shoul­ders.

“I can’t ex­plain how much it’s helped know­ing the bar­rier is there. It’s given us con­fi­dence,” he said.

“It hasn’t just stopped the dogs, it’s stopped the feral pigs from com­ing in and the fully grown foxes as well.

“It’s also stopped cross con­tam­i­na­tion from other sheep; I haven’t had to re­turn stock to the neigh­bours or have them re­turn any to me since it went up.”

He said his sheep were also hap­pier.

“The an­i­mals are very set­tled now,” he said.

“You can drive around and they’ll just stand there and look at you in­stead of see­ing a cloud of dust from them run­ning off.

“They aren’t scared of the work­ing dogs ei­ther be­cause they aren’t haunted by the thought of the wild dogs.

“I can’t wait to see how things pick up again when we get some rain.”

The next hur­dle for the McMil­lan fam­ily is the drought.

“In the last 12 months we’ve only had about six and a half inches of rain, which is be­low half of our aver­age,” he said.

“We’re go­ing to need so much soak­ing rain to get the grass back up again. Ninety per cent of it will prob­a­bly need to come from seed, if the seed is there.

“My dad used to say back in the ’70s it used to rain for 16 days and nights. It doesn’t do that now and we need it to.”

Bar­cal­dine gra­zier and AgForce Sheep and Wool board di­rec­tor Paul Done­ley said he en­cour­aged com­mu­ni­ties to con­tinue talk­ing about the need for more fences.

“To see more of these grants, peo­ple need to keep talk­ing about it around the com­mu­nity and also to their coun­cil­lors and lo­cal mem­bers,” he said.

“There are a lot of gra­ziers out there who wouldn’t be able to have these fences with­out grants be­cause they take a fi­nan­cial toll.

“It’s not a sil­ver bul­let by any means but it is the best tool in the kit.”

The next round of ap­pli­ca­tions for ex­clu­sion fence fund­ing are now open.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

A FRESH START: Marie and John McMil­lan stand­ing in front of the fenc­ing that is keep­ing out the pests.

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